About Retail: Not quite as white

IndependentsSep 25, 2013

About Retail: Not quite as white

At the Diamond Gallery in Winnipeg, owners Allan, Anita and Lisa Malbranck opt not to plate any of their white gold jewelry, allowing those pieces to stand apart from platinum with their slightly warmer tone.  

The difference in color between the Diamond Gallery’s platinum and non-plated white gold rings is easier to discern on pieces featuring brushed metal, says Lisa Malbranck. Here, the white gold ring is on the right.

Winnipeg, Manitoba--At the family-owned Diamond Gallery in Winnipeg, owners Allan, Anita and Lisa Malbranck have carried only one bridal brand during the store’s entire two decades in business: their own.

About 15 years ago, the Malbrancks added another wrinkle that differentiated the store from its competitors: they opted not to plate any of their white gold jewelry, allowing those pieces to stand apart from platinum with their slightly warmer tone.

It’s a practice the store, which opened in 1992, started when the desire for white metals for engagement rings began to outweigh requests for yellow gold, says Lisa Malbranck, who was 12 when her parents opened the Diamond Gallery. She went to work for them right away, answering the phone and cleaning showcases.

“Platinum is the truest white metal. It’s been used for hundreds of years,” she says. “White gold is kind of an oxymoron. (Gold is) yellow. It’s never going to be as white as platinum unless you plate it.”

Today, their decision not to plate white gold, combined with their custom bridal business, helps them stand apart in an ultra-competitive marketplace where customers can check one store’s prices and styles against another’s simply by pulling out their smartphone.

“We really wanted to give a very unique experience to our clients,” Malbranck says. “It’s been about something that’s a little bit different and that’s the niche that we’ve carved out for ourselves.”

The plating of white gold, which is done using rhodium, is a practice that has been used in the jewelry industry for decades, says Darrell Warren, vice president of merchandising at Stuller Inc.

He says historically, the plating is decorative, used to even out the color and soften white gold’s yellow tint. “That is not a preferred color to the consumer. They want it bright and they want it white,” Warren says.

The fact that it is decorative, however, means it is not permanent. Warren says if applied correctly, white gold plating is very hard, very white and will last several years but, eventually, it wears off and needs re-plating.

There many white gold alloys on their market, and their hues vary depending on what the gold is alloyed with, he adds. Stuller, for example, has created a metal called X1 that is alloyed with nickel and other undisclosed additives. X1 does not require rhodium plating and is very close to the whiteness of platinum.

Malbranck says metalsmiths in Toronto and Montreal use a proprietary mixture to create the Diamond Gallery’s white gold, and it’s made to be as white as possible.

Still, there is a noticeable difference between the store’s white gold and platinum selections.

Malbranck says their customers initially are “really shocked,” by the contrast in color, mostly because they are unaware to begin with that white gold is plated.

“I feel like in our market lots of jewelers don’t even talk about the fact that white gold is plated, and often it’s not explained to clients the upkeep involved in a plated white gold ring,” she says.

At the Diamond Gallery, though, they are zealous about practicing full disclosure with their clients and giving them the “real deal,” Malbranck says.

She says in their eyes, plating a white gold ring to make it brighter is a bit of a fraud. “Really, the idea of anything that’s plated is you are masking something, right? You are trying to change the color into something it’s not,” she says.

It also detracts from the retailer’s ability to offer while-you-wait polishing and cleaning to clients--plated white gold can’t be polished on  the spot because it removes some or all of the plating--and means they’re selling their customers an item that eventually will need to be re-plated.

She says they especially dislike the idea of plated rings because rings are generally the pieces that endure the most wear and tear.

After learning all of this, it may be surprising to some jewelers what the Diamond Gallery’s customers pick for their engagement rings and wedding bands.

Malbranck says those who can afford it, obviously, pick platinum.

While the store offers to plate white gold for customers who want it, about 95 percent of customers who go for gold choose the non-plated pieces. They want the after-sales service and, Malbranck says, many actually like the slightly warmer tone of the non-plated white gold.

“It’s worked for us,” she says. 
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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